I wonder if you’ve heard of the Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour—I love all that, all the way down to the extra ‘u’ for the UK spelling. As part of their annual conference, AISB held a Symposium in Liverpool today called Cybernetic Serendipity Reimagined, where I gave a 12-minute presentation on the status of the COLLOQUY 2018 Project (download the audio here and slides to follow along here). The presentation was a recap of progress on the project based on a paper published by AISB written by TJ McLeish, master fabricator of the COLLOQUY project, and myself.
Cybernetics is often confused with robotics and AI, chip implants and biomechatronics, and more. Don’t want to disappoint you but cybernetics is none of those things (though it has a lot to say about all of them). Cybernetics is not freezing dead people, neither. (I’m hoping that’s less of a surprise. Maybe not.)
Hoping to clear up all that confusion in 20 minutes, I gave a talk on Saturday, March 10th, 2018, at 2pm at Worlds Fair Nano in San Francisco.
To speak about the future of cybernetics (as in this short video) is to speak about its past and present (requiring another short video). In an era that vacillates between rampant AI utopianism and rampant AI dystopianism, what does cybernetics have to offer our future? Read more…
No, our replica of The Colloquy of Mobiles is not yet real—this is only a photoshopped image of how it will look in our staging space in May at College for Creative Studies in Detroit (CCS). But the photo speaks our intention and hints at our progress.
Imagine walking into a gallery and seeing these larger-than-life mobiles hanging from the ceiling — they rotate, blink, squawk, and sometimes synchronize with each other, completely without human intervention. You walk among them, blocking their interactions, using a flashlight to attract their attention, wanting to get in on their conversation.
This was Gordon Pask’s COLLOQUY OF MOBILES at the Institute for Contemporary Art in London, part of an exhibition called Cybernetic Serendipity in 1968. Yes, 50 years ago in 1968 — an exploration of machine-to-machine and person-to-machine conversations in an interactive, immersive environment, perhaps the first of its kind. Frequently praised for its originality and influence, Pask’s COLLOQUY is a precursor to practices of contemporary art and design, as well as a prescient vision of our future with machines that may choose to act on their own.
At the conference opening, Michael Yap and I held a keynote conversation titled “Now What: Cybernetics, Design, and Society.” The livestream of this keynote is available, as well as a PDF of the slides (thanks to Michael and Pooja Upadhyay).
We want to acknowledge the fabulous arrangements from all of the organizers, especially Sam Hart, Melanie Hoff (who also did program and website design), and Francis Tseng. Special thanks to Joly McFie who ran the webcast and was the only person at the conference who was present at Cybernetic Serendipity in 1968 in London, mentioned during our talk.
I personally hope The Cybernetics Conference, New York City, becomes a yearly event, perhaps a resurgence of the Macy Meetings, that were the foundation of the breadth and depth of cybernetics, held in the 1940s and 1950s. It is time.
It would be tl;dr for a blogpost to explain the originality and contributions that Alan Kay has made to interaction design. We’re fortunate that he delivered an extended real-time lecture by video on October 9, 2017, to grad and undergrad students, hosted by the Interaction Design Evolution course, a.k.a. Studio III in the MFA Interaction Design program at CCS.
Alan has been deeply influencing interaction design from the time he conceived what we now call the iPad—though his concept went much further and was explicitly a learning tool. And he named it more descriptively: the Dynabook (1968-1972). He had a relationship with Steve Jobs and famously said that he thought the original Mac from 1984 was “the first personal computer good enough to be criticized.” Wait… what? Yup.
To “design our world” has been the goal of every human generation. Every day we wake up to an invitation to become whom we wish to become. I believe the role of design is to help all of us to achieve that goal for ourselves — that is, to be designers of our own world.
Ambitious, I realize. As is trying to tame wicked problems through design.
But what is “design” anyway? Why isn’t “design thinking” enough? And what’s this got to do with cybernetics, anyway? I offer viewpoints in my Heinz von Foerster ’17 Lecture, entitled Designing Our World: Cybernetics as Conversations for Action. See the abstract, video, and supporting materials here.